Aug. 4—ROCHESTER — Bee Carmichael knows government buildings aren't always inviting, but she said that wasn't her experience Tuesday.
"It was a very welcoming environment," the Rochester 15-year-old said of the morning that started with a visit to an Olmsted County Board of Commissioners meeting in the city-county Government Center and continued with a court tour.
Later on Thursday, she and other Boys and Girls Club participants, discovered county work can get messy as they helped feed a bear at Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo.
Carmichael was among approximately 15 youth taking part in a new county-led Summer of Discovery program, modeled after
Rochester Public Schools' summer school program
Jenna Gilbertson, associate director of Olmsted County Child and Family Services, said discussion of the new pilot program started before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the idea of raising awareness about county activities and potential employment opportunities.
Olmsted County Commissioner Gregg Wright, a retired high school teacher and college counselor, said he initially proposed it as a way to reach the next generation of county staff.
"We know there is a shortage of workers in the community, and we will have to recruit and retain employees," he said. "One of the best ways to start with recruitment is to look at people who are younger, who are starting to look at careers that they might enter."
Carmichael said she's already set a specific career path, with hopes of becoming an art therapist, but still saw potential benefits in the county program when it was presented.
"It's good to be involved with your community, because if there are no good options, you need to be the good option," she told county commissioners Tuesday, paraphrasing a message she said she heard online. "We need to learn in order to be the good option in the future."
The 30-minute visit to Tuesday's county board meeting also provided an opportunity for the Boys and Girls Club members to see work on government policy as the commissioners held a public hearing connected to
the county's policy on drone usage in Graham Park
The discussion prompted one of the middle schoolers to propose to ask for time during the public hearing.
"Maybe we should add a license," Gio Hernandez said, suggesting the county consider some sort of documented permission related to drone use on county property, which could help bridge concerns between access for practice flights and potential privacy concerns.
County Administrator Hiedi Welsch said the 11-year-old's comments displayed clear engagement on the issue.
"They were listening," she said.
The 30 minutes they spent at Tuesday's county board meeting was just the first portion of the first day for the program that will eventually introduce them to a variety of county offices and experiences, from Tuesday's tour of the courts to a planned Aug. 18 discussion of environmental resources.
During Thursday's park visit, the group learned about potential jobs at county parks, as well as the county's efforts to provide park amenities. They ended the morning by helping spread a bear's daily meal throughout an empty pen, providing a taste of the variety of work done by a county park naturalist.
Keturah Quinn, Boys and Girls Club outreach coordinator, said the goal is to get the middle school and high school students thinking about their futures.
"I'm hoping they get some insight of what they can start looking at for career paths, especially the ones who are undecided about what they want to do," she said.
Presenters have highlighted options for work that can start right after high school to careers that require college degrees.
Gilbertson said the program provides learning in two directions. While providing insights into a variety of potential careers at the county, she said county staff also has a chance to learn about what the young county residents expect when it comes to local government.
"I see them as really the experts of our county," she said, pointing to questions and comments that can help highlight strengths and weaknesses on the county level.
So far, Carmichael said she likes what she's seen.
"I'm very proud of our county," she said, pointing to county officials' willingness to listen during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and new experiences she's getting as part of the summer program.
The Summer of Discovery program will continue with three more morning sessions during the next two weeks, and Gilbertson said she's hoping the lessons learned this year can help build the program in the future.